SCOC: Duress no defence for woman who hired hit man

The Supreme Court of Canada



OTTAWA - Canada's highest court ruled Friday a Nova Scotia woman who attempted to hire a hit man to kill her estranged abusive husband should not have been allowed to use the defence of duress at trial.

Because police ignored her pleas for help, however, the Supreme Court of Canada imposed a stay of proceedings and Nicole Ryan will never again be tried for the crime.

In 2008, Ryan attempted to hire a contract killer for $25,000 to kill her violent and controlling husband after some 15 years of abuse, fearing he would kill her and her daughter.

But the hit man was an undercover RCMP officer.

Ryan has been free for the last five years following her acquittal by two lower courts on a charge of counselling someone to commit the offence of murder. That acquittal has been overturned.

The court's decision clarifies how the defence of duress can be used, saying it's only available in situations where the accused is forced to commit a crime against a third party under threats of death or bodily harm.

In Ryan's case, there was no third party and she wasn't being forced to commit an offence.

The court also said it was "disquieting" that authorities brushed off Ryan's repeated calls for help as a "civil matter" in dealing with her abusive husband, an ex-soldier who physically and sexually assaulted her, held a gun to her head and threatened to "burn the f---ing house down" while she and her daughter were in it.

RCMP officers set up a sting operation to catch her when they got wind she was trying to find someone to kill her husband.

"It seems that the authorities were much quicker to intervene to protect Mr. Ryan than they had been to respond to her request for help in dealing with his reign of terror over her," the decision states.

In a statement, Nova Scotia RCMP said they were reviewing the ruling and that the force "takes matters of domestic violence seriously."

Kim Pate, with the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said battered women are ignored far too often by the authorities.

"Hopefully, a strong message is sent about the need for accountability," she said.

Past jurisprudence allows battered women to argue self-defence if they turn on their abusive husbands.

In this ruling, the court did not comment on whether Ryan could have used that defence at trial.

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